Letting go

Why is it so hard to let go, if not to forgive at least to forget and move on??

When I moved to Oxford, it was to pursue the project of my dreams, in what I thought the best place to do it. When I walked away not much of that youthful naivety remained, my career was in shards but my personal life flourishing. I completely lost faith in science and am keen to invest some time in finding alternatives. I have a sweet boy now and a great partner. I haven’t been stressed anymore since leaving Oxford, as I had been for weeks on end. I thought I’d moved on. Science isn’t all about experiments and observations, but largely about money and publications. It isn’t about talent, it’s about selling. I thought I’d accepted this and would be happy to trade it in for a more 9-5 job and time for a life besides work. For a career where hard work pays off more than sheer luck and big words.

Why then, if it was so bad, is it so hard to let go? Stupidly, I followed a link on Twitter that led to my old lab’s new website. I was astonished to read that 3 new postdocs have been hired. Whereas my contract was not extended, unlike promised, because of lack of funds. Just after informing about my pregnancy. Seeing that money appeared for 3 new people makes me so angry again. One of them is surely continuing my project, will probably even run off with a first authorship after almost 3 years of work from my side… Parts of the project proposal that brought in the money, were actually literally copied from my postdoc fellowship application. It makes me so angry.

But then – would I really have wanted to stay longer, even if given the chance? I’m not so sure, especially considering the toxicity of that environment. I should be happy to have escaped. I’m just still really struggling to accept this new reality. For 30 years, I’ve studied and worked in the sciences, loved every second of it and I still can’t believe it’s so easy to lose that. Much less, I can’t envision yet what could replace that??

To leave, or not to leave?

Sadly, I’m not so sure anymore that science is for me.

I absolutely love being in the lab while trying to crack problems. Thinking about the project we’re doing, why it’s important to be pursuing it. How to pursue it. Which methods to use. The thrill of going to the lab and getting some small results every day, even if only cells that are happily growing. After a lot of work, collecting all the data and writing up a paper. Discussing new ideas. Presenting them to the lab, to the institute, at conferences. Setting up collaborations. I really really enjoy it.

At some point however, negatives started to seep through that pink cloud. A collaborator who warns not to try to reproduce some paper, as they think it’s irreproducible. A colleague who is very sloppy in processing data, leading to perhaps wrong conclusions. A supervisor who is pushing their students so hard, that some get depressed, some get to hate science, none of them are happy. A PI who copies his postdocs texts to his grant applications without giving them any credit. The list is, unfortunately, quite long.

I understand the roots of these problems. The pressure is immensely high. Who doesn’t publish, goes down. Who doesn’t get money, can’t pursue their projects. What science needs, is a way of evaluating people other than output in form of publications. But that’s worth of a blog post of its own… I’m very curious how I’m going to end up – after a period in Oxford, no paper yet. No one is going to ask why, not going to care that my promised contract didn’t come when I got pregnant and that 2,5 years just aren’t enough to build up a project from scratch.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness. What really makes me happy? So far, being a scientist has defined much of who I am. But does that mean it makes me happy? Or should I accept that I’ve been viewing academia through pink glasses and that it is in truth a ruthless world of constant pressure, publishing, networking, writing and selling instead of being about careful analysis, observations and hypotheses. Perhaps a 9-5 job, with higher salary and less uncertainty would be better suited to my family needs…

Now that I’ve rediscovered the internet and social media, I’ll find out more about leaving academia such as these podcasts and try to decide what to do after my maternity leave. Any pointers to other people or blogs are most welcome🙂 Having a screeching 4 month old does limit my possibilities to roam around the net…

Hello there. I’m still alive. Kind of.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been away from the wondrous world of social media for quite a while. So many things were happening, that mysteriously no time was left for the online world. Also, my moods have been varying greatly. Note the understatement there. I didn’t want to fill this blog with not necessarily heartfelt negativeness.

I think I’m going through a phase many (early career) scientists go through. What am I? A scientist? A writer? Or perhaps a friend, a musician, a daughter, a …? How many percent of my identity is defined by science, how much made up of other components? What will fill me with happiness, when I’m 80 something and ready to die? The one extra paper I squeezed out, or the time I spent with my family?

You may ask what triggered this avalanche of thoughts, or perhaps not. I have the feeling it’s quite common in nowadays science to philosophise a bit about the meaning of it all so maybe you may actually not want to ask why. I’ll tell you anyway.

Last year, I was in Oxford. Doing some pretty fun research in a pretty bad environment. Narcissistic PI. Egocentric colleagues. You name it. Still, I was hooked on the research and overall happy. Then two things happened:

I got pregnant. My PI did not give me the promised contract extension.

I am still in a very introspective and reflective phase and will undoubtedly expand a bit more on what exactly happened the last year in further posts. Most importantly for now, I’m very happy with my baby and partner. Career, I don’t know. Life turned upside down having no job, being pregnant, moving to another city in a country with a language I don’t speak.

Right now, I guess being a mum has replaced much of the scientist, but I’m sincerely hoping that is a temporary state. It is probably a survival instinct, as I would most likely go mad as a scientist sitting at home changing diapers all day.

Occupying me most, is the not knowing what’s next. Once the kiddo is old enough for daycare, will I start applying for other postdoc positions, make the transition to industry, to writing, to consulting, or to something else completely? Opening a cat cafe sounds like a perfectly solid life choice to me at the moment🙂

To be continued…